Anne Boleyn – All Things to All People

Posted By on March 25, 2011

Did Anne Boleyn look like this?

It’s Friday, my brain is fried and I’ve gone all philosophical and “deep” – sorry! I apologise in advance for this article as it will be a load of thoughts gushing out of my poor mushy brain, it will ramble and may not make sense!

This article was sparked off by a comment on Facebook from a lady who was a stripper and admired Anne Boleyn because “she played Henry like a lute…. she got the cash, the jewels, and the crown… Anne didn’t take his s**t. She was his equal.” I immediately found myself getting on my soapbox and high horse, writing of how the primary sources did not support this idea of Anne blah blah blah, but then I stopped and deleted my comment. I thought “Who am I to tell this woman, who obviously admires Anne and says that she has been her role model since she was a little girl, what to believe about Anne?” Although that’s not ‘my’ Anne Boleyn, can I prove definitively that Anne wasn’t the woman that lady believes in? Hmmm…

It got me thinking that the beauty of Anne Boleyn, the thing that draws us in and won’t let go, is her mystery and the fact that she can be all things to all people. For some, she is a feminist icon, for others she is a tragic victim. For some she is a Protestant martyr, for others she is the victim of a faction battle. For some she is a sexual predator, for others she is a manipulated pawn on a chessboard or a victim of sexual harassment. For some she is a whore and a homewrecker, for others she is a virtuous woman who dared to say “no”. For some she is the proud, ambitious woman who played a game and deserved everything she got, for others she was a woman who made the best out of her situation. For some she is a role model who inspires them, for others she is the woman who stole another woman’s husband and deserves to be damned for eternity. In Howard Brenton’s play, she is the woman who caused the English Reformation, a Joan of Arc figure, and in The Other Boleyn Girl she is a scheming woman who will consider murder and incest to get what she wants….

Anne Boleyn is a paradox. Her life can be manipulated by historians and authors to fit their theories and ideas. The primary sources can be read in different ways. We fill in the blanks in her story with our own ideas about her, yet we just don’t know who Anne Boleyn really was. We do not have a portrait that we can hand-on-heart say “that is Anne Boleyn”, we do not have her replies to Henry VIII’s love letters, we don’t have a diary that she kept; all we have is contemporary sources, some written by people who admired her, e.g. John Foxe, and some written by those who did not care for her, e.g. Eustace Chapuys.

Then we have books written by learned academics, the likes of Eric Ives and G W Bernard, but even they don’t agree. We have Ives, who believes that Anne Boleyn was innocent and that she was framed, arguing that the dates used in the indictments at her trial make no sense as she was not even at those places at those times, and then we have G W Bernard playing Devil’s advocate and asking does that really prove that she was innocent? It seems that we can use the evidence to support completely opposite theories!

I have dedicated this website to finding out the ‘real’ truth about Anne Boleyn, but what is that? Will I ever find it? Can I paint the picture of the real Anne Boleyn? “No” is the honest answer. What I can do is research her life, look at the sources and interpret them but what I write is MY interpretation. OK, there are various acknowledged facts, things that appear in many different sources, but most of what we believe about Anne is based on hypotheses, whether our own or that of an historian. When we had history essays to write based on a statement which then ended with “Discuss”, my history teacher at school (thank you, Mrs Sagi!) said that it did not matter what case you argued as long as you could back it up with evidence, and the mystery surrounding Anne Boleyn means that we can represent her in so many different ways and nobody can tell us that we are wrong.

Where does that leave those of us who are trying to get to the truth? It leaves us having to accept that Anne Boleyn is a puzzle, and loving her for that, it leaves us acknowledging that we are on a journey that may have no end. See, I told you this was going to be deep!

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